Transplanted fat cells restore function after spinal cord injury

A study published in the current issue of Cell Transplantation (Vol.17, No. 8) suggests that mature adipocytes - fat cells - could become a source for cell replacement therapy to treat central nervous system disorders.

According to the study's lead researcher, Dr. Yuki Ohta of the Institute of Medical Science, St. Mariana University School of Medicine, Kawasaki, Japan, adipose-derived stem/stromal cells have in the past been shown to differentiate into neuronal cells in an in vitro setting. In their study, for the first time fat cells have been shown to successfully differentiate into neuronal cells in in vivo tests. The fat cells are grown under culture conditions that result in them becoming de-differentiated fat (DFAT) cells.

"These cells, called DFAT cells, are plentiful and can be easily obtained from adipose tissue without discomfort and represent autologous (same patient) tissue," said Ohta. "DFAT cells, with none of the features of adipocytes, do have the potential to differentiate into endothelial, neuronal or glial lineages."

The research team reported that DFAT cells expressed neurotrophic factors, such as BDNF and GDNF, prior to and after transplantation and which likely contributed to the promotion of functional recovery.

According to Ohta and colleagues, tests in animal models confirmed that the injected cells survived without the aid of immunosuppression drugs and that the DFAT-grafted animals showed significantly better motor function than controls.

"We concluded that DFAT-derived neurotrophic factors contributed to promotion of functional recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI)," said Ohta. "Transplanting DFAT cells into SCI rats significantly promoted the recovery of their hind limb function."

"These studies demonstrate the ability to obtain stem cells from a patient's own fat that can help repair injury to the spinal cord," said Paul R. Sanberg, PhD, DSc, at the University of South Florida Health, and Coeditor-in-chief of Cell Transplantation.

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